The interest of these images is entirely personal and biographical. To anyone other than myself (and, perhaps, my sister in some cases), they are photographs of random, mundane buildings.
And this is the most important point about all photographs: whatever the photographer's intention, however involved the photographer is with the subject (and whether this is emotionally, personally, politically, economically, aesthetically or otherwise), it is the baggage that the viewer brings to the interpretation of the image that is of prime significance.
[25Sep] changed to - it is the baggage that the viewer brings to the interpretation of the image that determines their reaction and the photographer’s own baggage is, in all likelihood, of little interest to the viewer.
[18Aug] I early drafts of this page I carried on at some length discussing the personal interpretation of images and the relationship between the photographer and the viewer. On second thoughts, I will save that discussion for another time.
[7Aug] That baggage mediates:
- what they understand from it;
- what they take away from it or learn from it;
- how much they value it; and
- what extent they are likely to seek out that photographer again.
And this raises another point. The audience for a particular photographer, or genre, or approach to the medium etc. will become statistically skewed and to a certain extent self-selecting and -perpetuating over time. This may be for a number of reasons:
- Chosen source material - e.g. Guardian readers will see some of the same photographers every day and they will be sympathetic towards the surrounding articles.
- Geography - where one lives will affect the images one sees and (positively and negatively) the images one is interested in.
- Education and socio-economic status - this conditions the æsthetic world one is brought up in, lives in and has access to.
The self-perpetuating cycle is reinforced these days by social media and the algorithmically massaged connections of search engines.
Within these constraints, it is the photographer's responsibility, if they wish to be viewed by a wider and increasing audience to make their work intellectually accessible to the viewer. The photographer must reveal the subject in such a way that the viewer can and will want to bring their sensibilities to bear on the image. The photographer must maximises the viewer's experience.
Many photographers will be selective in the audiences they wish to attract.
[2Aug20] Some images hold more widespread truths than others: such images are often documentary, or to be more specific, journalistic. My usual four examples are shown below †.
- In Nick Ut's Villagers Fleeing … (fig. 12) and Eddie Adams' …executing… (fig. 13) the distress and shock is self evident and needs no explanation to affect the viewer. Contextual information clarifies the nature of the events but does not make them more shocking.
- Jeff Widener's, Tank Man (fig. 14) does require an explanation in order to make the event deadly rather than merely curious.
- Richard Drew's, Falling Man (fig. 15) needs its context to be stated, lest it is taken for an abstract image: it is only when the date is revealed in the title that the brutal reality becomes evident.
† These were first used in C&N Part 1 and will be used again as they are exemplars.